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EDITORIAL: Social progress is won through unions

Victories of teacher union must not dwindle efforts for part-time lectures

The state of this nation is intertwined with the state of unions. Societal progress is won and lost by the unions of America. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in an address to the Illinois American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” 

When unions throw themselves onto the industrial belt and place themselves in between the gears of injustice, they work the mechanisms of democratic evolution. “Out of (unions’) bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life," King Jr. said.

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) has won vital concessions in the ongoing negotiations with the University over its contracts. We must bear witness to the history made through the pressures of collective bargaining. 

“For the first time in the union’s nearly 50-year history, we won equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses,” said Deepa Kumar, president of the AAUP-AFT and associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, in the press release. 

As the faculty moved toward the brink of striking, it garnered national political support recognizing the gravity of the situation. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), in a statement of support, said: “Educators at every level of our education system deserve better. I support the Rutgers AAUP-AFT in this fight for equality & dignity. Rutgers faculty are on the front lines every day for their students — we should all be united in the movement to support them." 

Sen. Bernie Sanders also tweeted in support last Monday, and said: "I stand with AAUP-AFT Rutgers professors who are prepared to strike in order to defend affordable, quality higher education. When we organize and stand together, we win."

And win they did. The union won pay raises for graduate employees and greater job security for graduate employees and non-tenure track faculty on top of its victory for righteous equal pay for equal work, as reported by The Daily Targum. 

Academia ought to be the beacon of progress for our nation. It must be the lighthouse, guiding us safely forward. As the State College of New Jersey, our progress is a microcosm for the progress that can be attained by New Jersey as a whole. “Labor Unions are the leading force for democratization and progress," said Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

With some reports showing New Jersey’s wage gap between women and men ranking 25th nationwide and dead last for the wage gap between Latina women and white men, the progress won for equal pay for equal work at Rutgers acts as a model for the state. 

Nonetheless, these steps forward must not veil our vision from seeing what was left behind. 

“Nearly 3,000 part-time lecturers still await a contract, fair salaries and health care,” said David Hughes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, in a press release following the negotiations. 

Nationally, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years,” while the full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years as of 2014. 

This national trend is reflected in Rutgers, as more than 30% of classes are taught by part-time lecturers (PTL). Though they are teaching around one third of all classes, only .8% of the University’s budget was spent on wages for the PTLs. The negotiating table must not be left until these professors receive due compensation and security. 

With the administrative discussion on tuition costs soon approaching, we must be wary of any malignant claims that assert the cost of attendance must rise due to the recent concessions to the teacher union. Even though the University has sunk millions into Rutgers Athletics, that lost us $193 million due to its deficit in earnings, it may still claim that tuition will have to increase due to the union. 

Even though the University pays its unnecessarily large administrative apparatus irrational and unexplainable salaries that tops most of those at our Big Ten peers, it may still warn that tuition will have to rise due to our faculty. Even though it may make these assertions, we will not accept its hollow justifications. 

In his exploration of teaching and oppression, Brazilian philosopher Paolo Freire said: “The revolution is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity ... Not all men and women have sufficient courage for this encounter. But when they avoid encounter, they become inflexible and treat others as mere objects. Instead of nurturing life, they kill life. Instead of searching for life, they flee from it. And these are oppressor characteristics.” 

The responsibility of the student body, the people, is to stand in solidarity with our educators. Solidarity must not dwindle when progress is won for the path of justice and social improvement is mired by greed and regressive interests. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority  of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

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